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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Margaret Carter, October 25, 1975. Interview A-0309-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Downfall of liberal labor leadership in Texas

Carter traces the downfall of liberal labor leadership. After this passage ends, she tells several more stories illustrating how various labor leaders were undermined by their political enemies.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Margaret Carter, October 25, 1975. Interview A-0309-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

MARGARET CARTER:
Rayburn tried very hard to carry Texas for the Democratic nominee. I don't remember that Johnson was active in the campaign, but I'm sure that he supported the nominee. Rayburn had to depend on the unions, which at that time had liberal leadership. We had a very good labor-liberal coalition going in our county by that time.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Who were some of the labor leaders?
MARGARET CARTER:
Paul Gray was one. He's in Austin, now, for the CWA and trying to organize the municipal workers into the Communication Workers Union. Don't ask me why. [Laughter] Ross Mathews was perhaps the best one. He was one of the chairmen of our labor-liberal coalition. He was the secretary of the largest machinists union in the world, the largest machinists local in the world, at General Dynamics, which was then called Convair, the plant where the military airplanes were made. It was the largest single employer in Tarrant County, as it has been for some years now. Ross was really something. His political enemies got him defeated for reelection to his union office. Then, A.J. Pittman was vice-chairman of the coalition and he was the regional organizer for the packing-house workers union and somehow, the local establishment people got to the radical leadership of the packing house workers union, because Pittman was elected in the international convention and Ross was elected by the members of his local. You can The local establishement somehow managed——probably with the help of the stockhandler mentioned on page 48——to send to an international convention of the United Packinghouse Workers local delegates who complained that Pittman was associating in local politics with "minions of Wall Street", meaning Jack Carter, a poverty lawyer and liberal politician; Willard Barr, the publisher of the Labor News and later the mayor of Fort Worth; and M. M. McKnight, the mayor pro tem and president of the local Central Labor Council, who happened to work as a union printer for Amon Carter's newspaper. understand how they might have had enough local influence, enough local entrees to manage to defeat Ross, but they also managed to defeat Pitt. They took a radical approach to get him thrown out and a very conservative approach for getting Ross thrown out and they were both thrown out because they were officers of the labor-liberal coalition.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Has anyone speculated as to how that was achieved?
MARGARET CARTER:
Well, I know how it was achieved.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
How?
MARGARET CARTER:
Well, they persuaded …in the first place, they wouldn't give Ross credit for anything that he was doing or publicity to show that he was making friends for the union at the same time that he was making enemies. He was, of course, making enemies but they were the kinds of enemies that union officials should be proud to have and he was making many friends and strengthening their educational program with political clout. Ross was a real grass roots organizer. He took members of his union who were absolutely unsophisticated and inducted them into the mysteries of a precinct campaign so that they began to control their conventions and to become members of the county Democratic committee and when they had been through the campaign where they were elected to the county committee, they began to look around for public offices for which they could run and we kept having to fill vacancies because everybody that Ross turned into a party officer then turned around and ran for the water district or the school board or even the city council of some working man's suburb. He was doing an excellent grass roots political education job, but it was easy to persuade malcontents …
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Within his union?
MARGARET CARTER:
Within his union, that he was spending too much time on politics. This in spite of the fact that he was also the best office manager of union records within the United States and after he was defeated, as secretary of that local, he went to the international headquarters of his union and became assistant treasurer and was put in charge of a program of educating other people how to keep their union records as well as he had kept his. It was not true that there was a conflict between his duties and his interests in politics.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Well, who do you speculate was involved here in getting the malcontents in his union to actually overthrow him?
MARGARET CARTER:
Well, we know about one effort. There was one young man who is still active in Ft. Worth labor circles and who worked at Convair at the time, who circulated a disaffiliation petition among the members of the machinists union there. There is another small union there that is not affiliated with any international group, that has one or two departments organized at Convair and these men, some of whom were affiliated with another AFL-CIO international … I mean, they were influenced by organizers for another AFL-CIO organization, were circulating a disaffiliation petition and of course, you can't do that long without being caught. Two of them were caught and were charged with disloyalty to the union. They had what they called a trial and they were found guilty and assessed a large fine. The hearing board was satisfied that the large fine would amount to expulsion but they didn't want to expell them formally, — they felt sure that they would never pay the fine so they would never have them on their hands again, they hoped. And this young man that I knew, I didn't know one of them but I knew the other one, was the son of a member of the stockhandler's union. When my husband first came to Ft. Worth, the first winter, his mother and her seven children lived in a tent on the north side of Ft. Worth. North Ft. Worth was at one time a separate town from Ft. Worth. It was an industrial suburb that included the packinghouses. The people who worked in the packing-houses were organized into unions, one of which was the stockhandler's union. And this boy's father had been active in the stockhandler's union and had been known as a stool pigeon for management Since my husband could remember … My husband was doing an Amon Carter among the stockhandlers and selling them refreshments, because they worked for a cafe and he had to start to work by the time he was twelve years old. And he knew from hearing the men talk as he sold them sandwiches that no one trusted this boy's father. And the father called Ross —— the secretary's position is the important office in that local, because it's a paid office, —— the secretary of the local which the son had been trying to destroy and said, "I want you to use your influence to get the amount of the fine reduced." Ross said, "I'm not going to do it. He was trying to destroy my union and I don't want him to ever be an active member of it again." The father said, "Oh no, he wasn't trying to destroy your union, he was just trying to destroy your political interests." [Laughter] So, we know about that effort and the man who defeated Ross was a very ignorant man who probably meant well and really thought that Ross was neglecting his duties. Then he tried to take up the political action which Ross had to leave off. He just didn't know how.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
So, Ross's influence was effectively destroyed.
MARGARET CARTER:
Well, he just had to leave Texas. He went right ahead, but he did it somewhere else. [Laughter] And he was a vice-president of the international union when he retired. There was an effort to get him into a business, which is another thing often done to union leaders. Either they move them up into management or they try to persuade them that they would like to be in business for themselves. He was offered a job in business that would have made him very much his own man and utilized his skills as an office manager, but he said, "I've sat on one side of the table for too long, and I know which side I belong on." He was a tool and die maker. He said, "I can always make a living with my hands." He was a great man.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
That's a moving story.
MARGARET CARTER:
And his motivation was, his inner motivation, that he was living on borrowed time. He had contracted tuberculosis before there were the cures for tuberculosis that there are now and had lived in a sanitarium for about a year, expecting to die. While he was there, he began to read practically everything in the library, which wasn't very much, except they had some of the liberal magazines for which Victor Reuther was writing. Victor Reuther was travelling in Europe for the United Automobile Workers and Ross educated himself. He knew more about what was going on in the Italian elections, for instance, than most Americans ever bothered to keep up with. He was never ostentatious about that, but if you talked with him, you knew how well informed he was. And he was the superintendent of a Baptist Sunday School.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Would you say that his type is characteristic of the labor leaders in Ft. Worth today?
MARGARET CARTER:
No.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
What had happened there?
MARGARET CARTER:
I don't want to say anything bitter about the leadership of organized labor. It has no leadership. There are only opportunists looking for a way up into the middle class. They don't understand that it is an honor to be a member of labor.